Alexander Messmer stood on Iwo Jima’s Red Beach with a Japanese machine gun post to his left and an artillery position on his right.

Alexander Messmer stood on Iwo Jima’s Red Beach with a Japanese machine gun post to his left and an artillery position on his right.

It was where one of the major massacres of World War II occurred in America’s fight to take over the Pacific island from the Japanese nearly seven decades ago.

The significance was not lost on Messmer, an 18-year-old sergeant major with the Cherry Point Young Marines organization.

“Just thinking about the major amounts of naval warships that were out there was incredible. There were 456 naval warships in this campaign,” Messmer said. “To just think about that, not only being on Mount Suribachi but also being down on the beach, was just awe inspiring. That was another major highlight of this trip. When you think about the history books and people telling you about it, or pictures on a wall, when actually there, that’s when it comes down to earth. It’s amazing.”

Messmer returned last week from a tour of the island with World War II veterans and a group of nine other distinguished Young Marines from across the country.

“When we’re told in the Young Marine program that it’s a once in a lifetime experience, they’re not lying. It is once in a lifetime,” Messmer said. “There is no other experience like this.”

Messmer, a student at Havelock’s Early College EAST, is in line to find out this June if he will be named National Young Marine of the Year. He went to Iwo Jima for being selected the region’s Young Marine of the Year.

“We were there an hour early and we got the chance to travel a little bit throughout the island,” Messmer said. “The Young Marines ended up hiking up Mount Suribachi where we flew a couple of flags, took some pictures and shot some for the Young Marines News Network and then we did some volcanic ash collecting at Green Beach.”

World War II veterans from America and Japan who had fought on the island were also part of the trip. Messmer said a poignant moment occurred when an American veteran who had found a straight razor  belonging to a Japanese soldier while fighting on the island in 1945 met that soldier to return the razor.

“It was just amazing to see both these gentlemen, who at one time had fought each other, come together and reminisce about this straight razor,” Messmer said. “They were starting to tear up a little bit because it was an emotional moment. The emotions ran high. There were people in the crowd that were tearing up from this exchange of the straight razor just because this Japanese gentleman had not seen it for 69 years. So for these two men to be connected over this straight razor is an incredible event to see.”

He also had a chance to meet and talk to World War II Army veteran Ed Mervich, whose job it was to clear out the last of the Japanese stragglers after the American invasion.

“This Mr. Mervich was in charge of going into the tunnels and finding the Japanese,” Messmer said. “He had not been to the island in 69 years. I got to sit down with him and just extensively talk to him and find out about his history and everything. It was just a major highlight of being out there on Iwo Jima.”

Messmer was joined on the trip by Col. Philip J. Zimmerman, former commander at Cherry Point, who is now stationed in Guam. And he also had a chance to meet Marine Corps Commandant James F. Amos.

“He talked to us all about staying with school and being successful,” Messmer said. “Most of us are planning on going into the Marine Corps. Some of us are doing different branches. Stick on the path that we’ve been on and that the sky’s the limit.”

Messmer plans to attend N.C. State and later enter the Marine Corps.